Recruiting and Retaining Employees

A restaurant operator conducts and interview with a prospective employee

While current labour conditions are challenging, it is still possible to find and keep employees. Just try this expert advice.

If you've been recruiting, it's likely no surprise to you that Canada is in the midst of a rather severe labour shortage. A December 2017 report from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business identified roughly 362,000 unfilled jobs across the nation—the highest number ever recorded.

Hospitality, the industry category that includes restaurants, has the second highest number of job vacancies, right behind retail. Richelle Akimow, Gordon Food Service Director of Sales based in British Columbia, has seen the effects of the shortage firsthand.

“Many of our customers, especially in resort communities like Whistler, have been forced to close their doors two or three days a week,” she says. “These decisions aren’t driven by a lack of customers, there is just no one to do the work. Owners are in many cases working 20-hour days for weeks at a time and aren’t able to maintain the pace any longer.”

Akimow knows of operators paying dishwashers more than $20 per hour and scheduling three of them per shift, hoping that one will show up for work. But the problem extends beyond unskilled labour—experienced chefs and cooks are also in short supply.

It’s not just that there aren’t enough workers to fill open restaurant positions, says Gordon Food Service Corporate Executive Chef Michael Viloria. He believes restaurants haven’t done enough to make themselves employers of choice.

“Uncompetitive compensation, a high-pressure culture, poor work-life balance, little opportunity for growth and an inability to engage with employees have all contributed to the current state of restaurant labour,” Viloria contends. “Operators who want to do a better job of recruiting and retaining employees have to reevaluate their business to account for these conditions.”

Here are some ideas for making changes that will make a difference.

Invest in your company culture

“The biggest advocate you have, your strongest recruiter, is the happy employee who loves their job, and feels both challenged and supported,” says Akimow. “People like that tell their friends.”

Creating a challenging, supportive culture can be facilitated by developing a set of core values that will guide every aspect of your operation. Core values can include such things as teamwork, education, open communication, positive reinforcement and a family environment. 

“Building this kind of culture is a huge opportunity for the industry,” Akimow contends, because it will counter the perceptions about long hours and unpleasant working conditions.

Target your recruitment efforts

“Great people don’t need to look for jobs, jobs will find them,” says Gordon Food Service Recruiter Brad McCosh. Great hires are not looking at help wanted ads, they’re signaling their desire to find a new job by updating their social media and LinkedIn profiles. 

Savvy recruiters search and monitor these profiles to identify and reach out to worthy candidates. “It requires more time and diligence than posting a job ad, but you’ll get better quality hires,” McCosh believes.

Define your differences

Operators must provide potential employees with reasons to hire on with them rather than the employer down the street. Pay and benefits are important, of course, but as long as they’re competitive, it’s the perks that make the difference.

Do you offer clear paths for advancement? Do you have a mentorship program? Do all kitchen staffers have a voice in developing new dishes? Do you support work-life balance by offering averaging agreements—for example, can a cook work four 12-hour days and get three guaranteed days off rather than working six or seven days a week?

Your hiring pitch should emphasize these kinds of perks and your core values just as much as the responsibilities of the position. 

Streamline your hiring practices

You don’t want to give potential recruits the chance to be swayed by other employers while you put them through an arduous hiring system. Now is the time to speed up the application process and shorten the time between initial enquiry and interview.

You can also consider employing technology to accelerate onboarding and training. You’ll make your new recruit feel like a contributing member of the team that much sooner.

Engage your team

Getting the right people on board is just part of the battle. You have to work just as hard to keep them and avoid costly turnover.

“Employee engagement is the hot topic in human resources today,” McCosh points out. Engaged employees are enthusiastic about their work and loyal to their workplace. To find out if your employees feel engaged, “Start with engagement surveys. There are many out there that can be purchased for minimal cost.”

If the surveys come back negative, you’ve got some work to do. Use your core values to develop an internal marketing plan that boosts engagement—and increases retention.

Let’s Talk Labour

Talk to your Sales Representative about the recruitment and retention resources available to you.